The Ability to Work Remotely: Measures and Implications, Accessible Data
Figure 1. Measuring the Ability to Work Remotely
Figure 1 describes the evolution of employment shares in remote occupations according to the no physical presence (left panel) and the remote communications (right panel) indexes. The two indexes present very different evolutions. In 2003, the no physical presence index suggested that 35 percent of workers were employed in remote works in 2003, a share that inches up to 42 percent by February 2020. The remote communications index, instead, has gradually increased over time, increasing from less than 10 to almost 50 percent of employment over the same time horizon.
Note. The left panel shows the share of employment in occupations that do not require physical presence. The right panel shows the share of employment in occupations with indices of e-mail, phone, and memo usage above 4.
Source. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey (CPS) and O*Net.
Figure 2. Differences in the Ability to Work Remotely along Demographic Characteristics
Figure 2 analyzes the ability to work remotely along three characteristics: race and ethnicity, age, and education level. The average disparities across demographic groups are relatively similar for each measure. In particular, the average remote worker tends to be white employment (top panels), between 25 and 64 years of age (middle panels), and college educated (bottom panels). Focusing on changes in remote employment shares across those dimensions, the no physical presence index (left panels) shows little change over time with the exception of college-educated workers. For the remote communications index (right panels), the group that represented the largest share of remote employment in 2003—white, 25-to-64, college-educated—grew at a steady pace over time, while the share of remote jobs in all other groups remained at consistently low levels.
Notes. The left panels show employment shares in occupations that do not require physical presence. The right panels show employment shares in occupations characterized by a hight ability of working remotely, that is, by indices of e-mail, phone, and memo usage above 4. In panel A, other denotes Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
Source. BLS CPS and O*Net.
Figure 3. Differences in Wage Outcomes by Ability to Work Remotely
Figure 3 points to large aggregate differences in average wages across remote and non-remote occupations by either index. Those who are able to work remotely have higher annual wage outcomes, with some slight differences across the indexes. Among those differences, the remote communications index shows a persistently wider gap than the no physical presence index, partly reflecting very anemic growth in non-remote workers’ wages for the former measure.
Notes. The left panel shows annual wage based on shares of employment in remote occupations using the Dingel and Neiman (2020) classification; the right panel shows annual wage based on shares of employment in remote occupations using the Montenovo et al. (2020) classification, above 80.
Source. BLS Occupational Employment Statistics and O*Net.
Figure 4. Impact on Hours during the Pandemic Recession
Figure 4 compares three outcomes: the trend in hours across all occupations, the trend in hours across jobs characterized by remote communications, and the trend across jobs requiring no physical presence. Remote occupations by either index experienced a significantly smaller decline over the two months of the pandemic recession; as a result, the rebound in hours for remote occupations appears more gradual, but the level of hours at occupations requiring no physical presence or characterized by remote communications remains above the level of hours at all jobs throughout the middle of 2021. Since differences in the patterns of hours for the two indexes are minimal, our evidence so far suggests that either measure is representative of the status of remote work in the post-pandemic period.
Notes. Decline in aggregate hours relative to February 2020. Remote communications refers to occupations with high usage of phone, e-mail, and memos; no physical presence refers to occupations that do not require physical presence.
Source. BLS CPS and O*Net.
Figure 5. Impact on Hours: Counterfactual Exercise
Figure 5 compares the trend in hours observed since January 2020 with counterfactual trends constructed assuming that the classification of remote jobs for each index was the same as that of July 2004. Specifically, for each occupation with the ability to work remotely in February 2020 but not in July 2004, we attribute the average decline in hours of non-remote occupations over the recession period rather than the actual decline. No changes in the ability of working remotely would have implied minimal effects in the hours decline observed in March and April 2020 for the index of no physical presence. The impact on hours, instead, would have been significantly more pronounced had the index of remote communications remained at the same level as that of July 2004.
Notes. Decline in aggregate hours relative to February 2020. The left panel shows occupations that do not require physical presence. The right panel shows occupations with high use of phone, e-mail, and memos.
Source. BLS CPS and O*Net.